Part I: Is the Grass Really Greener?

June 22, 2015
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Having been a successful freight agents in previous lives, our team has learned a lot of lessons (some of them the hard way). With countless options out there for agents to choose from, the task of trying to find the right home can be a daunting one. As a whole, agents tend to be a very transient group. Constantly on the lookout for greener pastures. So is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

The answer is simple: It depends. Looking for a place to trust with your business can be like the arduous task of  buying a car; so many different makes, models, colors, option packages and upgrades, new vs used, buy vs. lease, economy car vs. big SUV? It’s enough to drive you crazy. Then there’s the absolute joy of dealing with the proverbial, high pressure car salesman. Ugh!

So how does a freight broker agent go about sifting through all their options? By being thorough and doing your homework. When weighing your options, there are 9 key areas to look at.

In Part I we’ll look at:

  1. Service Offerings
  2. Technology
  3. Agent Support

1. Service Offerings

First, take a look at your book of business and make sure it matches up with the company you’re considering. Is it truckload, LTL, intermodal, international, ocean, etc.? If you handle predominantly TL freight, does it make sense to associate with a brokerage who’s primary service offering is LTL? If you mainly handle Flatbed freight, is working for a reefer/produce broker the right move?  Maybe, maybe not.  However, if you’re looking to expand into a new market: heavy haul, tanker, expedited, etc. then maybe it’d be beneficial to partner with a company who’s strength is in those markets to allow you to diversify your portfolio & service offering. At the end of the day you need to make sure the company has all the services you’re looking for. Don’t be enamored by all the service that you won’t need or will never use.

2. Technology

The proper technology will allow you to work more efficiently, effectively and profitably.  Find out what software they use and ask for a demo.  Keep in mind, some companies have their own "homegrown" system.  Is that good or bad? We’ll that’s your call. They can make modifications fairly quickly and may have a lot of bells and whistles.   Just know that writing code, maintaining and supporting your own software is capital intensive (cost a lot of money).  If the technology department is soaking up a lot of the cash flow, that could mean less for other areas: support, carrier pay and maybe even higher commissions. A system that’s “off the shelf” (McLeod, TMW, Mercury Gate) are proven and stable due to the number of users and the fact that software is their core competency.  It’s what they do.  But they might not be quite as  “Flashy” and making modifications to them are both an expensive and lengthy process.  So the real question is: Is the company you’re considering really in the brokerage business or the software business?

In regards to the software itself: A web based system is highly recommended as it will give you access from any computer that has internet. This way you won’t need to download software or remote into another computer. Online track& trace capability is nice (if your customer will really use it). Make sure it’ll auto-post to the load boards and that you can email/fax rate confirmations directly from the software. This will save you time and effort. Since most of us have Smartphones find out if they have an App that will give you access to your information anywhere at any time. As an agent this can be a huge plus. Be sure to find out about systems training and support too. Bottom line, it’s just like buying a car, take it for a test drive before you buy.  

3. Agent Support

This is kind of a big one as that’s what you pay them for, right? These people are an extension of your business and will be working with your carriers, customers and the other members of your team. So you’ll want to make sure they’re responsive and competent.  In today’s world, things move pretty fast and if you snooze you lose. Your support team should be accessible, nimble and knowledgeable. If you’re calling the support team, its probably for something fairly important and you need help NOW. So when you call do you actually get a body on the phone? How quick are they able to respond to your needs? If you leave a message, do they call you back? Is support only available during normal business hours or can you add a carrier or increase a customer’s credit on Christmas morning or 10pm on a Saturday night?  What you don’t want to have to do is have to battle through six layers of management or run through an automated phone system to get help or resolution.  

Lastly, does the agent support team TRULY understand you and your needs? Making sure they a good understanding of what you actually do on a daily basis is critical. Find out if anyone on the support team has actually been a broker before. Or even better, have they ever been an AGENT? Think of it this way: would you ever fly in a plane with someone who’s never been a pilot? It’s extremely comforting to know if they’ve been in the trenches themselves and have fought the same battles. There's power in having an advocate on your side who's actually stood in your shoes. Because when you're in the heat of the battle and need a carrier approved for a hot shipment at 5:54 on a Friday night before a holiday weekend, you need someone who's got your back. Ask yourself:  does my back office view me as number or a customer?

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